Oct 18, 2007
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Indians splurge on glittering weddings

Oct 18, 2007

NEW DELHI, Oct 18, 2007 (AFP) - Indian bride-to-be Natasha wants an intricately hand-embroidered traditional wedding ensemble for her big day.

Price is not an issue for the 26-year-old management consultant, who is among thousands of shoppers who have flocked to a three-day wedding exposition in the Indian capital.

"You get married only once. I want to do it in style since all my friends and relatives will be present," said Natasha, who will be tying the knot next month and preferred not to give her last name.

"The boy comes from a big business family. They will obviously want that we match their standard at least," Natasha's mother Kusum chimed in, before the duo rushed to the next stall.

The family would not say how much they planned to spend, but the silk wedding dress studded with semi-precious stones could alone be worth 3,000 dollars -- a huge amount in a country where the average per capita income is about 700 dollars.

But as the wedding season approaches industry watchers say business is set to soar, with an estimated annual growth of around 25 percent.

"It is one of the few recession-proof businesses. Indian weddings have been and will always be an extravagant affair," said Divya Gurwara, who organises the annual Bridal Asia exposition.

"For the most modest wedding also, people spend at least the equivalent of their family's annual income," said Jai Raj Gupta, chief executive of wedding planning firm shaadionline, meaning wedding online.

"The spend can be totally disproportionate to the family income. After all, Indian weddings are meant to define a family's social status," said Gupta, whose firm handles some 100 weddings a year during the main November-April season.

In April, the firm organised lavish celebrations in the coastal resort of Goa and in Nepal's capital Kathmandu for the nuptials of a relative of steel baron Lakshmi Mittal and the scion of a top Nepal business group.

Mittal himself set a benchmark when he reportedly spent some 55 million dollars on the wedding of daughter Vanisha to an investment banker in France in 2004.

The festivities included a ceremony at the huge Versailles chateau, rented out for the occasion.

"The Indian wedding is all about fantasy, beauty. With growing incomes, people are increasingly spending on destination weddings," said Gurwara, who has roped in four wedding designers from Pakistan for the extravaganza.

While Gurwara plans to make the event an annual affair in Dubai and London, shaadionline said its business is growing by 50 percent.

Among those reaping the benefits of the booming business are Bollywood stars -- with A-list names such as Shah Rukh Khan known to command a few million dollars to dance for the entertainment of guests at these functions.

Experts are available for hire to handle the minutest detail: trousseau packers, copywriters who create customised poems for invitations, consultants to advise on shopping and grooming and choreographers to train guests for traditional dance ceremonies.

"All our staff are trained in regional customs too. If a girl from Punjab (state) gets married to a boy from Gujarat, we advise them what to give (as gifts), what to wear, etc," said Gupta.

"Weddings are about emotions. We try to add a personal touch," said wedding planner Vandana Bhardwaj.

by Parul Gupta

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